Saturday, January 21, 2006

we're off to see the wizard....

wait, I guess Rome is not Oz.

Good--no flying monkeys.

But Jason and I are off to Rome today, and two days in Florence as well. We managed to get tickets for a visit to the excavations under St. Peter's Basilica (tomb of St. Peter?)--yay for the off season! We also plan to visit, oh, every major artwork and most major ancient sites and probably a bunch of churches. And there may or may not be a visit to see the Pope. One just never knows, does one?

We also plan to eat a lot of pasta, risotto, and gelato, and chocolate at the chocolate festival in Florence, and to drink some wine and lots of cappuccino too.

And then we'll be week from today. Insha'allah.

Happy last week of January!

ma'a salaama...

Friday, January 20, 2006

friday five: pleasures--guilty and otherwise

hmmm, so many to choose from!

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love watching Buffy, and (except for portions of season five) it always makes me happy in the end, because it's so well written and deals with real life stuff AND has multiple strong female characters! Even the parts of season five that make me sad are well done and really contribute to the story arcs.
2. snickers bars, even though they're hard to find here...I have to go to a western supermarket to get them, but it is in every way worth it.
3. cadbury hot chocolate (definitely a guilty pleasure, as it's imported and expensive for my YAV budget--or for any average egyptian's budget!)
4. snuggling up with jason on one side and fred (fred's a stuffed panda, btw) on the other
5. asking my bro for more pictures of MY cat...every day. :-)
6 (I know, I know friday six is not alliterative...too bad). Mashed potatoes, lots of them, any time and anywhere (as long as they're real, not from a box)! Even if I have to get up and make them, it's worth it.


I am going to talk about throwing up briefly, just to warn you...

I think there is something about Egypt that has given me some kind of throw-uppy disease.

In the past eight years, I have had a throw-up illness about four times, two being food poisoning and two the flu (including the year I got a flu shot. ugh.).

In the past five months, I have had a throw-up illness five times, with perhaps two being attributable to food poisoning and the rest up in the air as to cause, though food poisoning is not being ruled out.

I really really hate throwing up. A lot. In fact, I have been known to refuse to throw up, which always makes me feel worse in the long run. And yet today I have already thrown up four times. What's the deal? There's nothing left for me to throw up. Nothing. And yet....

Now I'm hungry, but I'm not willing to eat anything that sounds good. oy.

And I'm leaving for Italy tomorrow and I will NOT be sick. I will eat risotto and pasta and gelato and chocolate, and I will drink wine and cappuccino. SO TAKE THAT, YOU EVIL STOMACH BUG!!!!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Things I used to take for granted

There are many things I used to take for granted, and now I live in this place where, well, I realize that I took those things for granted. I don't have many of the things I'm used to, and I lack some of the privileges I had when I lived in the US, and here are some of the things I've noticed that I used to think were so simple, so available, etc, but they just aren't.

1. Rotel. You know, that canned tomato-and-diced-green-chili stuff? Man, let me tell you, chopping tomatoes and green chilis takes time. And the green chilis made my fingers burn and they're still tingling 6 hours later!

2. actually, any kind of prepared food, especially that comes in a can. We have no canned beans, no canned veggies (which mostly are gross anyway, but still), few frozen veggies, no boxes of things (ie mac-n-cheese, cake mix, bisquick, etc).

3. the ability to call my mom to say "mom, the green chilis made my fingers burn, how do I make it stop?" That's not just something I'm missing in Egypt, it's something I'll be missing forever, and that sucks. I never bothered to really think about what it would be like to go through life without being able to call my mom and ask her what to do.

4. actually, the ability to call anyone, really, and likely get them because of cell phones. From here I can't call anyone because I have no phone card. Not friends, not family, not anyone. And I definitely miss having phone contact with friends and family.

5. church and pastors. Since I joined the church (omg now seven years ago almost) I haven't been without a good church community. I've had great pastors, great preachers, good community, a place to go and to be. But here I don't have that. Yes, there's the english speaking church i go to (which has a good preacher/pastor, actually), but it's not the same. Now that I really need a good pastor and a good church community, I lack one. It's very frustrating.

6. being in church leadership. I really miss being on a staff, having meetings with other ministers of all kinds, hanging out with the crochet group or the PW circle, visiting people at the hospital or at home, being with the youth group, preaching, planning worship, planning youth group, and generally just being in the midst of the daily life of a church community. I know I'm called to parish ministry partly because of how much I miss it here where I don't have any part in it.

7. My library. I have an awful lot of books, and I have a weakness where Borders and Amazon and little local bookstores are concerned. I had to pry myself away from the AUC bookstore (largest concentration of english language books in egypt, i think, novels and everything!). I miss my books--looking at them, referencing passages in them, rereading them, re-organizing them. We have lots of books here, but they aren't the same. For one, it's not quite the type of selection I have, and two I haven't read all of them, and three, I miss my own books. Especially certain ones I enjoy (need to?) rereading regularly. I was thinking today of Girl Meets God, and yesterday of Blue Like Jazz, occasionally of some of my school books I'd like to quote from, and pretty much everyday of some of my fave novels (Pride and Prejudice, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, etc) and my worship/music books. Oh, how I long for my church song books!

8. My cat. I miss her.

That's all for now. I'm sure there are things that I take for granted here that I will sorely miss when I return, and the day I make a mental list about those things, i'll write it here for you to peruse. Until'a salaama.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Five foods you meet in heaven

with thanks to my friend in chi-town...

what five foods do you hope to meet in heaven?

The Rules (because he said so):
A. In heaven, none of the negatives associated with food consumption are relevent (fat, cholesterol, calories, flatulence, indigestion, etc.).
B. No actual animals will die if you choose a food containing meat, so knock yourself out.
C. Cost is not an issue, nor is the role any particular food item might have in any current socio-political struggle on earth. (i.e., Nestle's products aren't evil in heaven--what with grace and all).
D. A particular combination of food, so long as it is normally served together, counts as only 1 "food."

oh, how I love food....

1. Turtle cookies that are somehow even better than those pillsbury break-and-bake turtle cookies, oozing with caramel, warmed and eaten with milk in a somehow unbreakable (but not plastic) mug.

2. cheese dip from taqueria del sol in decatur ga.

3. the Brick Store's veggie burger with remoulade sauce (not that weird red pepper mayonnaise they're serving now). With, of course, chips and a pickle.

4. My mom's enchiladas and home made refried beans. Something I won't get to eat again until I get to heaven, where she'd better be starting to cook now because I'll be so deprived by then!

5. mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and black-beans-and-olives. This is approximately the best side-dish dinner I have ever eaten, and I love to eat it! Every time I've been home for the past 8 years, my mom has said "what do you want for dinner?" knowing full well that this is the answer. There's usually some kind of meat thing for everyone else, but there is no comparison for the best matched meal ever than this. None. And it's best if she makes it, but I can actually do this one relatively well for myself. Maybe sometime soon I'll put the recipe for black beans and olives on my cooking blog. I'll let you know. yum.

Life on the Nile

So, a cruise on the Nile. Seems so romantic, so vintage, so Agatha Christie! And it is all of those things. It is also a crazy whirlwind tour of ancient Egyptian temples, a chance to meet loads of foreigners and be around English speakers, and filled with great food.

As Jason and I were traveling together, I decided it would be best (for me) if it looked like we were married. It’s very difficult for different gendered people to travel together in Egypt, and even more difficult if you’re an unmarried couple, and it gets even more difficult if either of us were ever to mention what we do in Egypt. Christians, especially those in leadership positions, do not travel together in this way—I would be expected to have a female companion, and we would have to pay ridiculous amounts for different rooms that would probably be far away from each other. So anyway, Jason and I have matching rings from Greece, and I simply swapped the hand I usually wear it on. In Egypt and actually throughout much of the world, at the time of engagement the couple wears rings on the right ring finger (where I usually wear my greek ring), and at the wedding they switch the rings to the left hand. Though I never said we were married, it was assumed and thus legitimated our traveling together. It’s definitely an awkward thing, though, let me tell you. (and I’m glad to be home where half the people who know we’re a couple think we’re engaged [only the half for whom it would matter] and the other half know the truth, plus the people who don’t really know…equally awkward but feels less like lying somehow.) I also solemnly swear that there was no funny business!

Anyway, we left Cairo Monday night on the sleeper train to Aswan. The sleeper train is quite a different experience than I anticipated: Jason and I had our own little room with two seats, a wash basin, trays for food, and a door to shut out the corridor.

I thought it was going to be like a regular train, and a dining car, and a sleeping car. Obviously my train imagination is living in the 19th century! After dinner (not bad but not great…glad I ate at home) the steward came and put down the beds: bunk beds that folded out of the wall. I took the top bunk and, upon declaring bed time, proceeded to look out the window at the dark countryside passing by. I spent this time praying for the people of Egypt, most of whom live in villages along the Nile, and also for myself and for Jason, that we would have a good holiday. And then, miraculously, I slept. I was hot and cold and feeling very dehydrated but unwilling to wake my bottom-bunk slumber buddy for my water, and I eventually got over it. Soon it was 7am and the steward was knocking on our door and ordering us out of bed so we could have breakfast before we arrived. Breakfast turned out to be a tray of different breads….not for the Atkins dieter! We arrived in Aswan just before 8am after nearly 12 hours on the train. It was bright, sunny, and chilly outside. We walked from the train station to the corniche, just a couple of blocks away. The river was absolutely packed with cruise boats, and we walked along until we saw a sign for ours. We headed down to it (just past 8am), left our luggage with the guys, and did our basic check-in stuff. We were told to put stickers on our luggage and then enjoy the sundeck or lounge bar until our room was ready for us to move in. We chose to put the stickers on our bags and then walk along the corniche some more, as it was a nice day—sunny and cool, and the air in Aswan is breathable, unlike Cairo!

After about 5 minutes of walking along the Nile, a teenager on a bicycle came riding slowly toward us on the sidewalk. As he passed, he grabbed my behind and was soon greeted by me running after him shouting “mish kwayes!” and threatening to kick his bicycle over. He got a very stunned look on his face and rode quickly away. I turned around to see Jason with a similar look on his face, and I was greeted with, “what happened?” I explained and then laughed about it and decided that, since news travels fast, no more women would be likely to get grabbed in Aswan today. (Jason always feels bad and usually gets the mad face when this happens, but I managed to pull him out of it relatively quickly today.) He requested that I explain what’s happening next time before I break away and go screeching down the sidewalk. However, I won’t warn, because by then the kid would have been gone. Anyway, it was a nice way to begin my day. We continued our very lovely walk down the corniche and back, and the only hassle we received was from very persistent carriage drivers wanting us to take a ride with them around the town or to the “big market.” Since we live in Cairo, we know better than to take these carriage rides and we also know better than to go to the “big market” where vendor after vendor will sell the same thing, which we can also get in Cairo much cheaper. There’s little that’s original to Upper Egypt that you can’t get in Cairo, the exception apparently being the Fair Trade place in Luxor, where I’ll hopefully go on my next trip up there.

Anyway, upon returning to the boat we headed to the sundeck where we each took up residence on a chaise and promptly took an hour long nap. Then we found that we were able to check into our room, and so we did! It was on the bottom deck of the boat, and our window was only a few inches above the water outside, but the room was clean and lovely, and perfect for us with two twin beds, a nice tiled bathroom, and a minibar stocked with bottled water and pepsi. We could hear water splashing against the hull of the boat, which turned out to be nice at night because we were both lulled to sleep by the water sounds.

After unpacking some, we ventured out so I could buy some sunglasses. I had inadvertently left mine in Cairo, grr! I won’t tell this whole story, but I ended up buying sunglasses for 50 pounds. They were not good. by the time I got them back to the boat (three blocks, maybe), one nosepiece was missing. At the end of the fourth day of the trip (the last full day of sightseeing), one of the lenses popped out and went missing. And that was the end of the 50 pound sunglasses. Luckily I have real sunglasses here at “home”!!

Lunch on the boat is a buffet—a GREAT buffet with salads and hot dishes (pasta, potatoes, veggies, beans, etc). Dinner is a set menu with several courses usually including soup, some kind of preliminary thing, main dish with two sides, and dessert. The first and last night they also had salad bar and fresh made pasta bar with the chef cooking the pasta for you right there, which was very nice. Breakfast was again buffet, but with an omelet chef on hand to mix you up a yummy eggy breakfast. We sat at table 11 with a family—German dad, Chinese mom, two adorable children—that lives in Cairo and works for Nestle! oy. I kept my “nestle is evil” thing completely out, though, and learned a lot about the company. These two work mostly with water, which I have to admit is a blessing in a country where the water is a little sketchy. I also learned that General Mills is a partner, not a subsidiary, and that potentially that might mean that I can eat some cinnamon toast crunch when we get home. Not a lot, just some. These two people were so normal and so nice that it really helped me gain a new perspective on the Nestle situation. I also learned that each country where Nestle operates, they employ locals/nationals, not expats. These two people are the only to expats in the entire Nestle operation in Egypt. That’s pretty good news, I think, in a country so loaded with unemployment. They are also paying people a living wage—three times what teachers at government schools are making! Anyway, table 11 was served by a wonderful waiter named Nubay (pronounced Nubee). He was funny and polite, he appreciated that we could all speak a little Arabic, and I learned that he had studied Spanish at al-Azhar university. He was hoping to come to Cairo soon because he has family there, including a new niece or nephew who was born in the hospital in our neighborhood. One night all the courses of the dinner were meat, and Nubay discovered I was vegetarian and five minutes later brought me a freshly cooked veggie plate with rice, eggplant, green peppers, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes. Without being asked! I was simply eating the side dishes from the main course, when suddenly this appeared! It was wonderful. He is such a nice man. I really appreciated his care and attention, and his sense of humor. He told Jason that I am an inexpensive wife because I don’t eat meat, and he should be grateful. hahahahahah!!

Our first non-food related adventure was a felucca ride in the Nile, including views of the other side of the Nile, Elephantine Island, Aswan proper, and a very crowded river.

I remember something about Kitchener using this area as his base to go to the Sudan in the 1890’s, and I remember only vaguely something about Queen Hatshepsut and Elephantine Island, and that Aga Khan had a house up here and his mausoleum is still here, as is his mansion. We met some of our traveling companions—a big group (well, several families not traveling together, but still, a big group) from New Zealand, two Egyptian families, a German dad-Chinese mom family with two children (they live in Cairo), etc. It was quite the group. We also met our tour guide, Madame Ragaa, an Egyptian woman who lives in Cairo and does a couple of these cruises each month. She, of course, has the required degree in tourism or whatever it is you have to study here, and seemed relatively knowledgeable. She was very nice and I enjoyed being with her during the week, so that’s a bonus!

We sailed for a bit, Madame Ragaa talked some, and we enjoyed some visits from boys paddling little personal “kayaks” around the river, stopping at boats and singing songs in various languages in hopes of a few tips. After two hours, on our way back, our felucca ended up getting stranded by a lack of wind, and we had to be rescued by a motor boat. It was quite an evening, I must say. Quite an evening.

In the morning we took a bus to a boat launch (which had a large parking lot lined with a huge bazaar—shop after shop of overpriced stuff), then a boat (where a jewelry vendor accompanied us and made a killing off some of the other tourists on our boat), to Agilika Island, site of Philae Temple. Philae Temple, dedicated to Isis (and her husband and son), is one of the many temples that was under water after the building of the first Aswan Dam, and was rescued before the building of the High Dam. All the temples were apparently moved—none are left now under Lake Nasser. Good thing, because they’re pretty cool.

We visited a lot of temples on this trip, so I’m just going to take a moment here to describe the basics of an Ancient Egyptian Temple (AET). Most temples look pretty much the same, they all have the same layout and same components, and most have similar reliefs carved on the walls. Granted, the reliefs tell different stories and I’m sure the hieroglyphics are explicitly different in each temple but to the casual observer, they look similar.

An AET has several parts: a courtyard, a memizi, pilons, a large hypostyle hall, chapels, a holy of holies, and probably columns. A memizi is a room that commemorates the birth of the god/goddess, or the god/goddess giving birth. The room is usually decorated with reliefs telling this story. Pilons are the big front walls that enclose the whole temple proper. AET pilons have a distinctive trapezoidal shape and are very thick—maybe 10 or more feet from front to back. The chapels are where offerings would be made, incense burned, songs chanted, etc. The hypostyle hall is where most of the columns are, and is a hall where priests would gather, where stories (of gods and of pharaohs) were told on the walls and columns, and where I’m sure other important things happened but I don’t remember exactly the point of this room, other than that it’s big. The Holy of Holies is where the statue (usually solid gold) of the god would be kept. The columns in AETs are usually topped with either papyrus flower or lotus flower capitals and were, in antiquity, always painted garishly bright colors that have thankfully faded to something very beautiful, when the color still exists. Keep in mind that these temples range from 2000-5000 years old, and if there’s still paint on anything, it’s quite amazing to think about!

Some other things you are likely to find in an AET: a storage room for the sacred barge—the wooden boat that would carry the statue of the god to meet the statue of the goddess for the new year celebration or for feasts; a lab or perfume room, which in one temple contained (written on the walls) the recipes for the perfumes; storage rooms (or sometimes large pits) for scrolls, jars, and old offerings that need to be moved to make way for new ones; and lots and lots and lots of hieroglyphics and other carvings.

Many of the temples in Upper Egypt were rescued from total immersion between the building of the two dams. In fact I think the total number is 16 rescued, including Philae Temple, Kom Ombo Temple, and Abu Simbel. The dam is, according to Egyptian tour guides, good for many reasons—including the availability of water for irrigation which has increased the arable land of Egypt significantly and the creation of a vast reservoir that has “saved the country from the famine being experienced elsewhere in Africa.” On the mixed blessing front is the rising water table—good for out in the desert oases, where wells are now a possibility because the subterranean water level is high enough, but bad for pretty much everything along the Nile, including homes, ancient monuments, old churches, and even the pyramids. The rising water table has made the ground less stable, and has saturated the ground and air with moisture that is causing some of these things to crumble or to be less structurally sound (after thousands of years). It’s also caused a rise in humidity levels in Egypt, which is not so good for people, buildings, monuments, documents, pollution levels, or really much of anything. Whether these positive/negative factors balance out is for someone other than me to decide.

Anyway, after visiting Philae Temple, where I also practiced a lot with the “self portrait” setting on my camera, we visited the High Dam. It’s not as impressive looking as Hoover Dam or even Grand Coulee Dam, but it’s big and brown and it definitely keeps the water back. Apparently there’s a build up of silt behind the dam (you know, the natural fertilizer Egyptians were using for hundreds of centuries before the dam?) that someone needs to figure out what to do with because it’s blocking the canals under the dam that allow water through. hmm….did anyone else wonder where all that “natural silt” was going to go? Anyway, enough about the dam. It was big, it was really windy on top of it, and there are police and whatnot everywhere, as far as the eye can see, because this is probably the prime target in Egypt. A missile or bomb here would quite literally destroy the country, and Egyptians are incredibly suspicious of Israel……..

Right…back on the boat we sailed on down the river to Kom Ombo. It took a surprisingly long time for us to do this, because there are SO MANY boats on the river—like 300 or something—and they are going all over the place all the time. One normally has to walk through several boats to get to one’s own boat at any given dock, and in some places I saw as many as ten boats docked together. Imagine walking through the lobbies of 9 other boats just to reach yours. wow. We often took this opportunity to scope out other boats, in an effort to see which one we might want to take our parents on. :-)

We reached Kom Ombo just before dusk, and had the pleasure of visiting the temple at sunset. The sunset over the Nile was absolutely gorgeous, and I confess to having missed some of the tour guide’s talk because I was too busy looking at the sunset. But as far as I remember, Kom Ombo was a temple rescued from the dam. It has a few interesting (read: different from elsewhere) things in it, such as reliefs depicting medical instruments and procedures and a complete ancient Egyptian calendar.

The ancient Egyptian calendar was made up of four seasons of three months each, and each month had three weeks, and each week had ten days. The actual calendar takes up more room on the wall than will fit in a photo, so I’ve taken some partial pictures. It was very neat.

The next day we found that we had sailed on to Edfu, the temple of Horus, his wife, and their son Horus the younger. (I’m relatively sure about this one, but if you find that I’m wrong, please correct me!) Each temple is dedicated to a triad of gods—a god or goddess, his/her spouse, and their child. This temple is particularly interesting because it has reliefs showing Horus the younger avenging his father (who had been killed by his brother). The uncle here is shown as a very small hippo, being chained, speared, etc, by his nephew Horus the younger. I’m not sure whether this is also the temple that contained the lab for perfumes, but I think it was and that was really neat too. Hieroglyphs literally covered every inch of the walls, relating the recipes for perfumes and incense that were used for temple ceremonies.

My favorite picture from Edfu, though, is of me with the Horus statue at the doorway.

Horus is usually depicted as a bird because ancient Egyptians believed that gods had different aspects, one of which was represented as an animal. Hence the frequent depictions of people with animal heads, or of animals, and also the mummies of sacred animals. It isn’t that the people were literally worshipping the animal, it’s that they believed the animal represented the god…kind of like icons. Therefore one animal would be chosen (ie a particular cat or cow or crocodile) and revered as the revelation of the god, and when it died it would be mummified and buried in the sacred animal burial yard, and the priests would have to figure out which animal the spirit of the god has passed into. It’s very interesting, actually.

We moved on from Edfu to Esna, where we did not have an organized tour. After reading the Lonely Planet description of the temple here, I decided to stay “home” for this one. Jason went out to the temple and came back to describe it to me. He also managed to get accosted by a shopkeeper and to nearly end up with a 200-Egyptian-pound tablecloth, a funny story which I hope he will tell on his website sometime soon.

After Esna we had to cross through the lock, which proved to take quite some time. Our boat proceeded through a narrow channel the western edge of the river—by narrow I mean a mere 6 feet or so between the boat and the concrete wall—and after a little stop in there, we moved on into the giant lock. I don’t know how long we were in the lock, but I think it was a long time. We were still sailing for Luxor when I went to bed. Crazy! It’s only a three hour train ride from Luxor to Aswan or vice versa, but we took four days to sail it. Granted, we stopped a lot, but we definitely sailed more than 3 hours during the whole trip. Definitely.

We had a very early wake up call in Luxor, and we woke to find that a look out our window showed us the mountain atop the Valley of the Kings. cool! Our morning excursion was to that very valley, which was a really fun trip. We drove around and across a bridge and then down quite a long way until we came to the Colossi of Memnon, to huge statues of this king, which used to sit in front of a temple but the temple hasn’t been fully excavated yet. The statues are really colossal….hence the name. Anyway, from there we drove more and more until we came to a parking lot flanked by…you guessed it, a bazaar. There are so many shops in these places AND you are required to walk by them on your way in and out, because a fence has been erected between the shops and the place you want to go, forcing you to walk by literally every single shop and shopkeeper. It’s quite exciting. Anyway, we got to the ticket office and then we still had to ride a little trolley thing up to the valley entrance. This is one well hidden valley, let me tell you. The kings were obviously REALLY tired of tombs being looted, because the switch from humongous pyramids to this quiet, hot, desolate, hidden valley is huge. But: the mountain’s top looks suspiciously like a pyramid. Hmmmmm….

Anyway, Jason and I opted not to visit Tutankhamun’s tomb this time, saving that for when the parents arrive in April (insha’allah). Your regular Valley of the Kings ticket allows you to visit three tombs, so we visited the tomb of Merenptah IV (I think) which was neat—lots of carving/painting on the walls all the way down the shaft AND in the actual tomb; the tomb of Tuthmosis IV, which was a big climb back to it, then a hike down two long shafts (and back out), but was worth it because the painting was so well preserved on the walls and because we were literally the only people back there—no one else seemed to have found it. It was nice to get away from the crowd a bit. January is high season in Upper Egypt, and we felt it. There were probably a thousand people in the Valley of the Kings, and it was noisy and hot and crowded. Crazy. Anyway, the third tomb we visited was Ramses III, which is so incredibly decorated and is also huge—we had to walk back a really long way and then found that we couldn’t go any farther because the excavations aren’t complete. This tomb has so much painting on the walls that nearly the entire tomb is covered in plexiglass. Wow.

From the Valley we headed on over to Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. This was like Jason’s mecca, and he was so happy to be here. The Temple is very large and is set against a mountain. Apparently you can walk/hike over the hills from the Valley of the Kings to the Temple, but we obviously didn’t have the opportunity to do that. We went on a bus. Anyway, at the parking lot we found more shops, and another long walk from the parking lot up to the temple. The little trolley filled very quickly, so Jason and I opted to walk. We arrive at the same time as the trolley…what does that tell you?

It seems that tourists are only allowed to visit the second and third terraces of this temple. I’m not sure what’s on the ground floor, but given the state of the temple, probably not much. It turns out that Tuthmosis III, son-in-law of Hatshepsut, didn’t like sharing the rule of Egypt with her and actually didn’t like her much at all. After she died, he came in and destroyed/defaced everything she had done. So there isn’t a lot to see in this temple, other than evidence of angry destruction by a petulant son in law. There are some partial reliefs, a little painting, but mostly what you’re there to see is architecture and evidence that there was such a powerful queen of Egypt who ruled by her own right. And yet she often had herself depicted as a man—in statues, paintings, etc. The only part of the temple that’s relatively undamaged is the temple to Hathor, off to one side. Tuthmosis III had some qualms about destroying god-related stuff. The temple has lots of columns, some great reliefs, and a well-preserved room (leading to the holy of holies) where you can still see what the original colors of paint must have looked like. Very bright.

At some point during this morning we also stopped at an alabaster factory, where handmade alabaster stuff is, well, made. It’s beautiful but this place was much too expensive and the salespeople were rather pushy. They had a clever presentation, though, about how alabaster is made and how you can look at it in light to see quality.

We had lunch back on the boat, and in the afternoon we headed out to the East Bank—to the big stuff! Karnak Temple is the largest temple in Egypt (the world?). It’s so big that I couldn’t even figure out how to take a picture. Seriously. It’s huge. We wandered around, being shown some things and wandering off occasionally (I know, we’re bad, etc etc). Karnak’s hypostyle hall has 134 columns, all humongous, topped with either papyrus or lotus capitals, and all COVERED with hieroglyphics that are large and deeply carved. There’s also some really high up “graffiti”—names and such in English—which was carved before the Temple was uncovered. At one point all these temples were filled with sand/debris/rubbish/rocks/etc, and where there’s graffiti 10 or 20 feet up, that’s where the level of debris used to be. It’s amazing, and makes me wonder what they did with all that stuff they scooped out of these temples. Karnak has so many rooms, so many sections, so many columns, that it would actually be possible to get lost inside. We ended up at the sacred lake—the place where priests and pharaohs would purify themselves—which has a scarab statue on the bank. We were told an old Egyptian superstition that if you walk around the scarab three times and make a wish, your wish will come true. I looked over and saw about 30 people doing it already! We heard conflicting reports, though, as to whether you should go clockwise or counter-clockwise, so Jason and I held hands and went three times around one way and made our wish, then three times around the other way and made the same wish. Just to be safe, you know? I was reminded of when I taught my English class at the cathedral the phrase “hedging your bets.” hehehe!

Anyway, I think one of the coolest things (besides the columns) at Karnak is Queen Hatshepsut’s obelisk.

It’s, oh, the tallest obelisk I’ve ever seen. It’s a single piece of granite quarried and carved at Aswan and then shipped downriver to Luxor—all over a period of only seven months. She donated it to the temple because that’s what rulers did—ever ruler contributed something to the temples. This particular temple has contributions from probably a dozen pharaohs. Crazy. This obelisk, though, is so big that it was impossible to take a picture of me with it. And we’re very lucky that it’s still here, given Tuthmosis III’s insistence on destroying her stuff. The obelisk has names of or words about (or something) the gods on it, so he couldn’t destroy it. Instead he built a high wall around it so people wouldn’t be able to look at it. Part of the wall is still standing there.

Speaking of the wall, I am reminded that at Karnak you can see “Ancient Egyptian Scaffolding”—the ramps that were built in order to build such high walls (or pyramids). Mounds of dirt and old bricks are built as walls with ramps so that there’s something to stand on and to move the large limestone blocks along to put them in place on the real wall. The front pilons of Karnak are not finished, so on the inside you can still see this “scaffolding.” Neat.

After Karnak we moved on to Luxor Temple, smaller but still neat.

Lots of statues of Ramses II—he really loved to see statues of himself. Luxor Temple is interesting because it demonstrates something I learned on the METS trip in 2004: Holy places often remain holy places throughout the centuries, despite a change in what kind of worship is taking place or what is being worshipped. Luxor Temple is one of those that was used by the Romans and then by the Christians, so there is a room with frescoes from the Roman imperial cult, and also crosses carved into the stone because the same room was used not only as the ancient Egyptian temple but also as the sanctuary for the Roman gods and later as the Church. Very interesting. In addition, there is a mosque built inside the Temple (though access is from outside) dedicated to a holy man from the area. So it’s an ancient Egyptian temple, it’s a Roman pagan temple, it’s a church, it’s a mosque….hmmmm, see a trend here? Very interesting. It does make one wonder whether thousands of years from now tourists will be visiting ruined and/or reconstructed churches, wondering at the belief system and the architecture and art and inscriptions, taking pictures, and buying souvenir books. I would like to think not, but I’m sure the Ancient Egyptians never thought this would happen either and yet here we are!

This concluded our guided visits, and was a fantastic end to our trip. We were supposed to check out of the boat after breakfast in the morning, but our train wasn’t until midnight. The boat management offered to let us stay in our room until we needed to leave for the train station, because no one was checking in to the lowest deck until Sunday. We graciously accepted this offer! Saturday morning we slept in a little bit, made it to breakfast just before it closed, and then headed out for a morning visit to the Luxor Museum. This museum is by far the best museum I’ve seen in Egypt—you can tell it was designed and built by an American museum (the Brooklyn Museum, actually). Displays are cared for, protected, well lit, and have signs. There’s stuff from King Tut’s tomb (though the major treasures are in Cairo), there’s stuff from the golden age of Egypt’s army, there are two mummies, AND there are the remnants of Akhenaten’s wall-offering to Karnak Temple. Akhenaten was the pharaoh just before his bro Tutankhamun, and he’s the one who tried to change the religion. He became pharaoh and made some offerings and whatnot, and then decided that there was only one god—Aten—and he changed his name, moved his capital away from Thebes, and generally abandoned Karnak. After he died, his heretical stuff was destroyed and the blocks of this wall were used as filler for pilons. Luckily they were found because it’s VERY cool. You can kind of get a sense for how large this would have been, and for the stories it tells, because the majority of the blocks are in place. neat. The Luxor museum also has some of his statues of himself, which are fun because they look so different from any other pharaoh, especially with his pouty lips.

post-Luxor-museum visit, we had lunch on the boat and then decided to rest for the afternoon. I finished a book and got in a nap before we decided it was time to get moving if we wanted to catch the sound and light show at Karnak temple. We decided to walk because the taxis around Luxor are so expensive (basically 20 pounds to go anywhere), so we left about two hours early. We walked along the corniche and chatted away, but after a while realized that we should have come to it by now. We asked a tourist policeman, who told us to keep going, which we did. By now we were in a thoroughly non-tourist neighborhood and had no idea what to do. The next tourist police guy we asked was no help at all and called over a taxi driver. The driver said we had passed it and it was three kilometers away from where we were standing! We ended up paying the guy 5 pounds to take us there. We arrived literally as the show was starting and when we went to buy tickets we found out that the cost for students was not the 20 pounds for entrance to the temple (the only price listed on the marquee), but 44 pounds!! We paid it anyway and hurried in. The sound and light show was neat because we got to see the Temple at night and also to hear some of the stories associated with the temple. They do all these voices as though the pharaohs who built it are talking to you, telling you about their contribution to the temple. You walk around (the whole big group) seeing different things and hearing the stories. Then you end up at the theater by the sacred lake, where they tell you more stories about everyday life, about how many people would be working here, about Thebes, ancient capital of Egypt (which, by the way, is Luxor-Karnak today), about why pharaohs chose to make contributions to the temple, about the end of the Egyptian religion, etc. It’s quite interesting and the cheesy factor does not outweigh the fact that you can really learn quite a bit, not to mention that it’s incredibly cool to wander a temple in the dark!

The show lasts just over an hour, and then you get herded out of the temple a different way than the way you came in because the next show is starting back at the front! Luckily we were near the taxis, so we grabbed another expensive taxi back to our boat, where we packed, chilled a little, and then left for the train station. Our train was at 11.45 but was a little late. We had opted for a regular 1st-class train to go home, rather than the sleeper train, because the cost difference is so significant: US$55 for the sleeper train or 45 LE (student price)—about US$7.85—for the 1st class train. 1st class trains are nice, with large comfy seats that recline nearly to laying down, padded armrests, and adjustable footrests. We slept most of the way home, arrived in Cairo just before 9.30, grabbed our luggage and headed for the metro, and found ourselves once again ensconced at Dawson Hall by 10am.

I admit that Ancient Egyptian stuff is less exciting to me than, say, Jerusalem stuff, but it was still really cool. You can almost imagine the priests and priestesses, the festivals, the workers spending years carving the hieroglyphics and reliefs, the gaudy colors these temples would have been painted. And watching Jason get excited about something he’s been waiting years to see was definitely enough excitement for me!! It was quite a trip, and I doubt that this long blog entry does it justice. But if you are my or Jason’s parent/sibling, you’re going to experience it anyway and then you can write about it for yourself. For the rest of you, umm, photos? I’ve loaded them in my photo page in the album non-creatively titled “Nile Cruise.” :-)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this ridiculously long account of my week. I will say in my defense that this week-long trip took me 1/3 the space to write about than the previous week! :-) I’m off to Italy for a week on Saturday, so who knows how long I’ll write about that. oh me, oh my!

the fours...i couldn't resist

Four Jobs I've Had in My Life
1. Private clarinet teacher.
2. admissions assistant (recruiting and application processing) for a large and prestigious university music school.
3. Director of Youth Ministry.
4. Volunteer (any number of times---just choose a year and I’ll tell you where I was a full time volunteer!).

Four Movies I Could Watch Over and Over, and Have
1. The Princess Bride
2. Keeping the Faith
3. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
4. Return of the King (third LOTR movie)

Four Places I Have Lived
(ack, just four???????!?!?!?!?!?! I just counted and, not counting moving within cities/metro areas, I have lived in 8 places. If I count the times I moved house within a city/area, it’s 15. oy. I need to settle down.)
1. Seattle, Washington
2. Chicago, Illinois (interspersed with two summer residencies in Iona, Scotland)
3. Atlanta, Georgia
4. Cairo, Egypt

Four TV Shows I Love To Watch
(I don’t have tv, and you can tell….)
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3. Alias
4. Angel, but preferably Buffy….

Four Places I Have Been On Vacation
1. Bethlehem and Jerusalem, for Christmas vacation
2. Upper Egypt (Nile Cruise)
3. Hilton Head, South Carolina
4. across the US in a car with my mom
and for the record, I’m going to Rome and Florence next week for another week of vacation.

Four Websites I Visit Daily
2. revgals
3. my friend rachel
4. my friend emily

Four Favorite Foods
1. Mashed Potatoes and green bean casserole (two foods that go together, so there…)
2. Mexican food, especially involving refried beans
3. ice cream
4. right now, kraft macaroni and cheese. (mainly b/c I can’t get it here very easily)

Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now
1. somewhere where I can call/text my friends. which I guess would be somewhere in the US.
2. At a large bookstore where the majority of the books are in english, preferably one that also has coffee.
3. somewhere where I can be in leadership in a congregation. (I miss church, which I guess sounds weird but will take up a post all on its own one day)
4. Having a massage.

(a new category added by me):
Four People I would love to chat with this week:
1. My mom.
2. My friend Noell.
3. “president” bush.
4. My mom.

tomorrow, or possibly later today: ChiRev’s heavenly food meme. I’m really feeling these this week. Probably because I’m procrastinating about blogging about the nile cruise, and also on writing the ordinary time devotions…maybe I need an incentive. No more memes until one of those devotions is finished. :-)

Sunday, January 15, 2006


we're home...after nearly a week of fabulous cruising on the nile, fabulous food, fabulous ancient temples, and some naps. more later. :-)

Monday, January 09, 2006

a traveling machine!

I am, once again, traveling and will be out of blog-land.

In just over an hour, Jason and I will leave Dawson Hall.
In just over two hours, our train will be chugging away into Upper Egypt.
In just over 12 hours, we will pull into the station in Aswan.
In just over 14 hours, we will board a cruise ship on the Nile.
And then we will be on our way to relaxing, touring, and learning. We'll see the sights in Aswan--the stupid Dam, Elephantine Island, the Temple of Philae. We'll go to Kom Ombo for more temple gazing. We'll go to Luxor and visit Karnak, the Valleys of Kings/Queens/Nobles, Queen Hatshepsut, Tut, etc etc etc.
And then we'll come on another overnight train back to Cairo.
We'll come back with pictures and stories, again, so be sure to tune in next Sunday for another installment of "last week in the traveling life of Teri!"

until then: rabbinna yebarku... (the Lord bless you...)

ma'a salaama!

Sunday, January 08, 2006


and that, my friends, was the trip to Israel and Palestine. Now I'm getting ready to go away for another week--tomorrow night jason and i leave for a cruise on the nile that will take all week. yay!

Check out the new cooking blog, "What do you mean you don't have a ricer?", for a few pics of our Orthodox Christmas Day dinner at Dawson Hall and a recipe for zucchini-stuffed tomatoes. mmmm....

From now until we leave tomorrow evening, I am writing for Ordinary Time. The devotions WILL get finished. And not while I'm on vacation, either! So there.

happy sunday!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Walk (drive?) on, O People of God

December 30

We woke at 5.30 and left the hostel at 6. This was quite early and we ended up arriving at the Jerusalem bus station more than half an hour before our bus was due to leave. There was a huge crowd waiting, though, and luckily there were actually three buses going to Eilat. Our bus left promptly at 7, and was completely full. We snacked on bread, cheese, jam, and fruit we had stocked up on the previous day. At Masada we somehow picked up about 10 American college students. We had no room for them—in fact, our bus already had an Israeli soldier lying in the aisle with his gun across his chest, finger on the trigger. The college kids took a long time to get on the bus, and also for some reason required quite a few stops. All this meant that we arrived in Eilat only half an hour before the bus we were trying to catch from Taba to Cairo. We grabbed taxis really quickly and arrived at the border, moved through the Israeli side quickly enough but the Egyptian side was “closed until 2.” Right…that was just the first of many contrasts between Egypt and Israel. (What are these other contrasts? Well, as soon as we entered the Egyptian side we noticed pollution, garbage, smoky buildings, rude and unhelpful people working in various places, an apparently lax work ethic, and the dilapidated state of buildings/roads/buses/cars. Israel really is a Western country that’s just been plopped down in the middle east without any sort of context.) We finally got the border guards to actually work and let us through, and then of course we had the inevitable questions at passport control. What have you been doing? Why? Where are you going? What are you going to Cairo for? You live there? What do you do? oy. We finally got through and then, at the last place we had to flash the stamps of our passports, more questions, including “what neighborhood do you live in? What’s the name of the school where you teach? What neighborhood is that in?” and the inevitable laughter that accompanies an American trying to pronounce the Egyptian Arabic “gh” sound. Anyway, we finally got through all that, but we had missed our 12.30 bus. We walked the 1km to the bus station to wait for the next bus…which didn’t leave until 4.30pm!! And so we waited. For nearly four hours. And then, at last, what a vision did appear! The bus, the bus….and we were on our way home. We arrived around 10.30, grabbed some old-fashioned Egyptian taxis, and arrived home at 11. ilhamdulillah!—our own beds, hot showers, and many memories.

Seek Ye First...

December 29

We decided not to wake up too early, but I needed an ATM so I was up a little early anyway. We once again had no hot water, this time because the power went out overnight and therefore the water heater was not so much heating. mmm, cold showers. Gotta love the Jamaican-cold-shower dance! Perhaps I will entertain the possibility of calling it the Jerusalem-cold-shower-dance.

Our first task of the day was to find and visit the Wohl Archeological Museum, also sometimes known as the “Herodian Quarter.” It is a museum built on the excavations of the elite neighborhood of Herod the Great’s Jerusalem. I’m sure it’s really cool, but we never found it. We wandered around the Jewish Quarter (and occasionally accidentally wandered into the Muslim Quarter too) for about an hour with no success. When we ended up in the Wailing Wall plaza again, we decided to visit Mt. Zion and then look again.

Mt. Zion is quite an interesting place…sometimes called the “City of David,” it has some interesting sites and some sites of dubious historicity. First we visited the Church of Mary’s Dormition (also known as Dormition Abbey), which is a Roman Catholic church commemorating the place where Mary fell into a deep sleep. It’s not at all clear to me whether this is Mary dying, or Mary just taking a nap because she was so tired from raising Jesus only to have him die young at the hands of the oppressors. I am not as up-to-date on Roman Catholic doctrine RE Mary as I probably should be. The fact that we visited Mary’s tomb (controlled by Greek Orthodox) probably isn’t helping. Anyway, the church was beautiful, with side chapels “contributed” or “gifted” by many different countries (such as the Ivory Coast, Brazil, Germany, and many more). There are some fantastic mosaics. My favorite mosaic is one in the cupola over the effigy of Mary sleeping (downstairs, under the main sanctuary). The center/top of the dome is Jesus, and surrounding him are women of the Old Testament. Eve, Mariam, Ruth, Esther, Judith, and Jael are depicted. It’s pretty cool. You can see pics by following the link to the left and checking out the “Christmas” album.

Upstairs, in the main sanctuary, the floor is decorated in a huge mosaic showing the months and the zodiac signs, the names of the prophets, the names of the disciples, the symbols of the four gospels, and a symbol of the Trinity. It’s quite a large circle, let me tell you. No one got good pictures of this, mostly because a lot of it is covered by chairs.

Once we left the Church of the Dormition, we headed for the “caenaculum”—the upper room (conveniently located next to David’s Tomb?). First David’s Tomb, a spectacularly boring sight where men and women are separated (different entrances and a screen down the middle of the room where you view a big box covered in navy blue cloth) and where men have to wear a yarmulke. Near the entrance there is a man handing out paper yarmulkes. hehehe! I think someone has a pic of Jason wearing one, but I don’t know who so I can’t show it to you. I’ll let you know if I find it. Anyway, David’s Tomb amused us for about 20 seconds, and we left. We headed out to the entrance to the “Upper Room” which was a spectacularly spurious historical attribution. You go up some stairs and into a room that is very large and of Gothic style, complete with arches and imported grey stone. Right, the Last Supper happened here, in a room that is not only outside the city walls (no matter what period of history/archaeology you’re looking at) but also clearly built hundreds (or maybe even a thousand) of years after Jesus. We stayed about two minutes, most of them laughing and taking pictures of us looking confused. This was Sarah’s favorite place in all of Jerusalem. (jk)

Once we left the oh-so-thrilling gothic cathedral of an upper room, we headed back through the Zion Gate and into the Jewish Quarter to look again for the Herodian Quarter. No luck, but I did show my friends the Cardo (the Roman street) on our way to the Damascus Gate. In the absence of the Herodian Quarter, we headed to look for the Garden Tomb. Now, I know where the Garden Tomb is. I’ve been there before (albeit on a bus on our way back into Jerusalem one afternoon), and I’ve seen on the map where it is. However, when we came out the Damascus Gate, I was a little turned around and inadvertently led my friends down the road to the left rather than the road to the right. This ended up leading us not only NOT to the Garden Tomb, but also directly into an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood with a big sign telling people not to walk through in inappropriate clothes, which includes women in trousers. Hmmm...

At this point Jason decided to head off for some alone time at Gethsemane. Sarah, Jennifer, Jen and I wandered around some more, eventually finding our way back to St. George’s Anglican church, where we got directions to the Garden Tomb. When we arrived just after noon, however, we found it opened at 2pm. Oh dear. Well, we had wandered some in the New City, Sarah had found some Skippy Peanut Butter, and we’d seen a sign explicitly telling people not to come into an Orthodox Neighborhood. good times. Unfortunately, I felt really horrible for leading my friends on a more-than-an-hour hike around the city looking for something that I knew was just 100 meters or so outside the gates but couldn’t seem to find. When we finally came to the Garden entrance, we could actually SEE the Damascus Gate. Anyway, it was closed. Sarah went off to the Church of the Redeemer and back to the hostel for a little while, and Jen, Jennifer, and I went to look for some lunch. We tried to get pizza but the place we were apparently had a broken oven or something. This threw our whole lunch-ordering into chaos, and we had to send the waiter away for five minutes while we tried again. We ended up with greek salads, falafel, etc. It was a good lunch. By the time we were done, it was 2pm and we headed back to the Garden Tomb.

The Garden Tomb is the site preferred by the Protestant churches as the site of Golgotha and Jesus’ tomb. There is a lovely garden with flowers, trees, streams, and lots of peace. It is in every way different from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I think that historically (and in terms of the cloud of witnesses), the Church is more likely the place. But in terms of some kind of spiritual place, the Garden Tomb is more what most protestants are looking for. My fellow YAVs really enjoyed the Garden Tomb. I admit it is incredibly beautiful and peaceful. But I also honestly felt more at the church. I think some of it has to do with all the candles, and some to do with the tradition and the feel of all the people who have prayed there. Anyway, our visit to the Garden Tomb was topped off by the gift shop and the wonderful, clean, and free bathrooms. And then it was all about wandering and shopping again. We wandered a bit and found ourselves at the CasaNova Jerusalem, then wandered some more and found ourselves in front of Shabaan’s shop, where my group last year did most of our jewelry shopping. Shabaan sells everything—from watercolor prints to kefiyyas to old silver jewelry to custom engraved jewelry. Across the way from him is the shop where I bought icons and my Jerusalem cross last year. This year I did a wonderful job of not buying anything! Well, except for some Dead Sea Mineral Hand Lotion. It’s really good stuff.

After sending Jennifer on her way down Christian Quarter Road to look for a wall hanging, Jen and I headed back to the hostel to rest a little. We were VERY tired. Jen took a nap but I headed up to the roof to check out the view at sunset. I arrived just as the dusk call to prayer was beginning to sound. There were two other people on the roof, with whom I chatted for a bit. They ended up telling me that the Herodian Quarter was really easy to find—we just needed to turn right out of the hostel, turn right again when the road ended, and we would have literally ended up at the doors of the Wohl Museum. oy! Anyway, I saw the “sunset over Jerusalem” from our roof. I also enjoyed watching the Mt. of Olives change colors as the sun set, especially knowing that Jason and Sarah were over there, watching the sun set over where I was. It was beautiful. And then I realized that I was running a bit late…so I went down to wake up Jen and to get ready for our last dinner (last supper?) in Jerusalem. Jen and I finally left the hostel after we were supposed to be at the restaurant, and we went to look for Jennifer, who we thought was going to be waiting at the bottom of the stairs in St. Marks Road. She wasn’t. We looked, but she wasn’t there. We got trapped by one shopkeeper, but eventually we got away and joined our group at Samara…late, of course. No need for me to break my trend of being late to meals on this trip!

After a lovely dinner—again with the hot chocolate!—we checked the hot water situation in the hostel. Still no hot water, so we declined the evening shower option, packed our clothes and new stuff into our bags in preparation for our early-morning departure, and went to bed.

Friday, January 06, 2006

for the record

*I did not go to church today because I overslept, then reminded myself that this year is the last time i'll probably ever get to oversleep then declare that i'm not going to church because i'm too tired. Which doesn't excuse me from not wanting to go, but oh well.

*Pat Robertson makes me crazy. The nearly 10,000 comments on the Yahoo news story about his latest idiocy both make me sad and make me laugh uproariously. Also for the record, I'm not sure this guy is a Christian. "They'll know we are Christians by our love..."

*I have started a new cooking blog with some of my chicas from my not-long-gone-seminary-days. Check it out sometimes for recipes, food stories, and pictures. :-)

*the entry for December 27 (two posts down) is really really long because a) it was a long day and b) we did a lot in Jerusalem that day and you don't want me to skimp on Jerusalem details, do you?

*I have only one full day and one travel day left to write about, which means that by the time I leave for my Nile Cruise (three days from now), I will have successfully blogged about the entire Israel/Palestine trip. If you would prefer to have the entire thing, from December 22 to December 30, emailed to you as a single word document, please email me or leave a comment to let me know and I will happily add you to the list of people receiving that version.

Jeremiah 7 (sorry, no hymn springs immediately to mind)

December 28

Two more of our party left us, early in the morning…Stephen and Eric headed back so they could be back for their classes on the weekend. We also lost Jay, in a sense, because he went off very early and did his own thing. “And then there were five…” The girls and Jason. Jason’s 8.30 excursion to the bank had been extremely fruitful—they had his card in hand and were waiting for him when he showed up. Apparently that machine is only for exchange rates and information, not for taking out money. Maybe they should put a sign on it in English so people who don’t read Hebrew at least have a chance not to lose their cards! And a big sigh of relief from the Jason corner (and the Teri corner too) that the worst-case scenario wasn’t one we had to play out! While all that was going on, we girls were taking cold showers. It seems the hot water had run out AND the power had gone out and we were left with ice-cold water. I demonstrated the Jamaican cold shower dance for my roommates—in our room, not in the shower. Sarah came out of the shower shaking and laughing uncontrollably, apparently from the cold. It didn’t help matters that we didn’t have heat in our room! It was an experience to start a day of experiences….

We decided to try to make both the Holocaust Museum (Yad Vashem) and the Israel Museum in one day. Oh, never let it be said that YAVs aren’t ambitious! We grabbed a yummy bread-and-zatar (spice combination…green…actually, I think, from Lebanon but don’t tell any Israelis that) breakfast, then headed out to try our hand at the Jerusalem public bus system. Unfortunately, it seems our instructions were unclear, because we waited a very long time without seeing the bus we wanted. We walked up the hill and across the street, and lo! there were many bus stops with many people and many signs, and we soon found what we were looking for. When the bus came, we paid our 5.50 shekels and sat down for an exciting ride! Some in our group were nervous about using public transportation in Israel, and some were declaring they’d never tell their parents about this because they had promised not to ride any buses. I hope none of their parents read this blog. The bus ride was uneventful and after about 20 minute we were at our stop—conveniently pointed out by the man we had asked before we got on the bus if this bus went to Yad Vashem. Thank you, anonymous Jewish man! You are very nice.

Once we arrived at the museum, I offered to be the bag/coat/camera watcher. I took a table in the all-kosher-all-the-time café and everyone piled their stuff in the chair opposite me. I grabbed a kosher Coke from the counter (expensive at 10 shekels—over two dollars for a 20oz. bottle!), borrowed some paper from Jen and whipped out one of my trusty Pilot V5 roller-ball pens. Then my friends headed up and into the museum, and I sat to write about yesterday’s experiences on the via Dolorosa and as a tour guide. I can’t believe I had not thought to bring a book. I knew I wasn’t going in this museum—I had come along so that after lunch we could go together to the Israel Museum rather than me taking a bus by myself and trying to meet them at the Israel Museum.

Why wouldn’t I go in the Holocaust museum? Well, I went last year, and it was horrendous. It was heart wrenching on the historical level, and angering on the contemporary level, and it was such an emotional roller coaster that took me a few hours to recover from that I was not about to do it all again. I definitely couldn’t take the stories of torture and death, and I wasn’t willing to sit through and walk through the Jewish perspective on being put into walled ghettos while Israel is, just outside, putting people into walled ghettos. Let me be clear about two things, one more important than the other. 1: The Holocaust happened and was a huge tragedy with many people to blame. Such a large number of lives were lost that I can hardly comprehend it. Evil was definitely at work. The event is clearly a definitive part of the Jewish worldview (and, in that sense, is “mythic” because it is a moment enshrined in the worldview and shaping of people’s lives and experiences as Jews. [side note to those of you who are blasting the Iranian president for using the word “myth” and will probably do so to be too: look up the word “myth” and its various meanings. You’ll find that usually myths are based on facts.] ). 2: This is the first time in my life that I can remember not wanting to revisit a museum. And a large part of that is my really intense anger that these people who were so injured, who were so badly treated, who will “never forget” and will never let anyone else forget (which is good), are able to turn around and forget that experience and do it to other people.

As I sat, I wrote:
Sitting in this café is a strange experience. Writing, people watching, food smelling...mmm, I’m getting hungry and my compatriots have yet to emerge. Last year this museum was hard for me to take (obviously, since I refused to go in again). Yet as people come and go for lunch after their museum visit, I see little of what I was feeling last year. The people here are talkative, laughing, eating…things I definitely didn’t do upon exiting the museum. Last year I remember being acutely aware of my German ancestry (which is visible in basically every square millimeter of my physical person). This time I feel out of place too, but only because I’m one person at a table and the café has filled to overflowing.

And then my friends appeared, one by one, most looking a little shell-shocked. We grabbed lunch from the kosher buffet (salads, rice, and veggies, and Sarah and Jen had spinach lasagna too). Jen and Jennifer didn’t finish their lunches. We chatted a little, but not a lot. We talked about the exhibits inside. We talked about the obvious Jewish slant. We talked about the politicking of putting a beautiful panoramic view of Jerusalem (out the window) as the last “exhibit.” We talked about the Palestinians. We read from the little brochure everyone gets at the museum entrance and substituted Palestinian details for Jewish details, changed the dates a few years, and found it to be completely accurate. We shared some frustration. And then we looked at our watches and found it was nearly 3. We figured out that by the time we got to the Israel Museum, we’d have very little time and then we’d have to go back anyway, so we decided to head back into the Old City and do some wandering, shopping, or resting. And that was that.

After yet another uneventful public bus ride, we split up. Jen and I went a-wandering and, after some jewelry excursions (Jen bought two cross necklaces, I bought no jewelry because I kept telling myself I have enough crosses, that I only wear two of them anyway) we found ourselves face-to-face with a really beautiful Indian wall-hanging. I had been wanting one, since I didn’t buy one last time for fear of not fitting it in the luggage. This was the first one I’d seen and loved. Immediately the shopkeeper took it down from its perch outside his store and began showing me several more so I could compare. Naturally, the one I wanted was the one I’d seen outside. It is handmade, it’s in a quiltd rather than geometric style, it has in the design what looks to me like the Tree of Life. He told me it was 150 shekels (33 dollars) and that was the best price I would find in the market. I had heard quotes from other shopkeepers as high as 300 shekels, so I believed him. He refused to bargain. I bought it (with Jen’s money, because I hadn’t been to an ATM yet). Jen also bought a beautiful pashmina for 50 shekels (11 dollars). We went home happy, to say the least! And dinner, you might be wondering? Samara, again. I told you it was “our” café! mmm, they have GREAT hot chocolate.

in which we walk from Ride On, Ride On in Majesty to When I Survey the Wondrous Cross to Jesus Christ is Risen Today

December 27

(this is really long...)

We woke up freezing, and headed into twilight showers (couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights…duh…). At least it was warm! I actually had a really nice shower, in spite of the light situation and the cold condensation dripping on me from the uninsulated aluminum ceiling when I turned the water off. Anyway, in Israel it’s okay to go out with wet hair, unlike in Egypt, so I wasn’t worried about looking like a whore with my wet hair, though I was a little worried about the temperature with my wet hair. I needn’t have worried, because by the time everyone got moving, my hair was mostly dry—thankfully! We headed out relatively early—8am—to try to get an “early morning” walk on the Old City walls in. Unfortunately, the Ramparts Walk opens at 9. ha—that’ll show us to wake up early! Instead we headed down to the Western Wall—the only remaining part (a retaining wall, actually) of Solomon’s Temple. We found the Temple Mount open to visitors, and jumped at the chance to get in there. And so my career as a Holy Land tour guide began in earnest. From the moment we appeared at the Wailing Wall until the end of the day (actually, even, the end of the week), my friends were asking questions, asking for explanations, asking for information, and I found myself actually giving it—with remarkable accuracy, too, I think. I seem to remember more from my visit and reading last year than I thought. More on tour guiding later.

After passing the security check for the Wailing Wall, we found we had to exit and enter a different security gate, with more metal detectors and bag searches, in order to enter the Temple Mount. oy. The security people confiscated Jay’s Bible—apparently Bibles are NOT allowed when you visit the site of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son—and they also managed to break my sunglasses. Too bad it was the first day I’d needed them since leaving Egypt! The clouds lifted when we left Bethlehem, and stayed away for the remainder of our trip. Great. Anyway, it was worth it all to get up on that plaza and stand where the great Temples of the Bible once stood, to walk where Jesus must have thrown money-changers’-tables over, to look out on the Mount of Olives from Mt. Moriah, to be there in the very place where so much of our faith tradition’s stories are centered. We weren’t allowed in the Dome of the Rock or the al-Aqsa Mosque, but we were able to walk around, to take photos, to enjoy the views, and to revel in the irony of the fact that we couldn’t bring a Bible to this holy place. We wondered if “they” were afraid that “we” would tap the Dome of the Rock with it and the whole thing would come clattering down, or what. When we were denied entrance to the Dome (even when we were appropriately dressed/covered and when we were ready to take off our shoes), we discussed the possibility of the 8 of us marching around it 7 times, then shouting and singing and seeing if it would fall down. We decided against it, in case you’re wondering. Anyway, the Dome is AMAZING up close. So much intricate tile work, you would think hundreds of people slaved away at it for years. Which they probably did.

Once we’d had our fill of the thrills of the Temple Mount, we headed down, Jay retrieved his Bible from security, and we threaded our way through the waking streets of Jerusalem, back toward the Jaffa Gate so we could get on with that whole Ramparts Walk thing already! But not without a stop for….breakfast…at Samara, a café that quickly became known to us as “our café.” After pancakes/egg dishes/bread + jam and hot chocolate/coffee, we were definitely ready to face the day. We went back to the Ramparts Walk entrance, discovered that our International Student ID cards would come in handy here (reducing the price to a mere 8 shekels, or about US$1.75). Sadly, I was disappointed by the Ramparts Walk. I mean, it was cool to walk around on Ottoman-period walls, but the section we walked on doesn’t have many Old City views (though there are some great views of sections of the city outside the walls, like Mt. Zion and some of the residential neighborhoods just outside the wall) AND the part you walk on has high walls on either side (yeah yeah, fortress, blah blah, don’t get your army killed by having them constantly exposed on top of the wall, etc etc…) making it hard to see most of the time anyway. Also hard to fall off, but that’s beside the point. We had some fun pretending to shoot arrows out the little archers’ windows, and we took some nice photos I guess (well, other people did, not me), but mostly I was saddened that I hadn’t suggested we ascend the wall at the Damascus Gate (I think the views are better from there—the Muslim Quarter, all around past the St. Stephen’s Gate). Oh well. It was a fun hour.

From there we jumped right in with the “Jesus sites,” as Stephen and I were calling them. We trekked up the Mt. of Olives—which, by the way, is quite steep and it really is a decent walk to the top—stopping only twice: once to visit the “Tombs of the Prophets” (Malachi and Haggai, and about 50 other tombs as well) and once to visit the Jewish cemetery that takes up most of the side of the hill facing the Old City. The Tombs of the Prophets (5 shekels each) turned out to be a bunch of 2500 year old tombs, sans any of the stuff you usually find in tombs. We went down about 20 feet, then found hallways of ground-level horizontal tombs. We could see where coffins had slid into the holes, but that was about it. There was a separate “room” with two tombs, in which I assume someone, at some point, found some kind of identifying references for these two prophets. Anyway, it was neat and allowed us to go underground, which is always cool! The Jewish cemetery is neat too, but harder to grasp because all the headstones are in Hebrew—even the dates, and I definitely don’t remember anything about the number/letter correspondences. But we had a lot of time to spend on the Mt. of Olives, because we began our pilgrimage just at the time when the Garden of Gethsemane was closing for afternoon prayers and lunch, so we had nearly two hours before we would be allowed in there.

We finally made it to the top of the “mountain” and spent some time taking in the panoramic view. Very excellent. Even better: a man with a donkey offering us a “taxi” (we laughed SO HARD when a member of our group very Egyptian-ly said “the same donkey Jesus took?” and the man said “oh yes…”), and an Australian man who was told by an Israeli (who looked at me before saying this) that he was “very lucky if all women in Australia are as beautiful as she is!” The Australian then proceeded to ask me where I was from and to offer me a camel ride on “his” camel. I looked at him, then at the camel (which was being led away by an Israeli man), and said “no, thanks, and if that’s your camel you might want to go catch it!” The man smiled, walked away, and laughed hysterically with his friends before finally going away. We had peace enough at last (and enough photos) but still plenty of time to wait, so Sarah went to sleep on a bench, and the rest of us sat down to chat. Then we had the intense pleasure of being surrounded by a group of Israeli soldier recruits—complete with big guns—being taken on a tour of their “homeland.” For some reason they needed to stand all around where we were sitting in order to get their lecture. Great. We managed to escape, but by the time we got Sarah awake and with us, the recruits were in front of us. We noticed that most had rifles but a few had grenade launchers. Just what you need on the Mt. of Olives.

Our first stop on the way down was Dominus Flevit—the chapel commemorating Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. This church is every bit as beautiful as I remember it—from the mosaic floor to the Byzantine altar to the view of the Dome of the Rock and the Old City out the window over the current altar. The grounds are gorgeous as well, and there were olives on some of the olive trees! Neat. The army recruits followed us into this site (after they stopped at the tombs of the prophets too…bet they were really intrigued…), and one of the soldiers actually came INTO the church with his big semi-automatic rifle. Ugh. I could not believe it. Another must have gone in while Jason was in the church, because he came out and asked “do you think that if an American soldier walked into a synagogue in New York with a big gun, that would be okay?” The frustration we were feeling with the overtly-armed nature of the Israeli army (which, for me, is also coupled with the average age of the soldiers—18) was definitely coming out as we tried to make our pilgrimage from the Mt. of Olives and into the via Dolorosa. We hoped against hope that the soldiers would move faster or slower or would maybe even just go away. Just in case, we hurried down the hill toward Gethsemane.

The Garden of Gethsemane is one of the most beautiful places in Jerusalem. 2,000+ year old olive trees—with thick, gnarled trunks and sprawling branches. In the spring, flowers galore. Even now, in winter, the ground looks fertile and ready for new life. The church is just as beautiful, with its “all mosaic, all the time” walls and its perpetually-lent purple cross stained glass windows, not to mention the international cooperation embodied by this church (it’s called the Basilica of the Agony, but is better known as the Church of All Nations, because so many nations contributed to the mosaics and the funding for the church). About the only thing that could disrupt the serenity of the garden or the spiritual experience of the place is a man in the garden saying “taxi? taxi? you need a taxi?” Which, of course, is precisely what happened to Jason and me as we walked around the olive trees that Jesus saw. Jason, in a really brilliant and beautiful moment, said “this is a holy place, it’s inappropriate to ask that here. Please leave.” The man looked shocked and did not leave, but apparently did wait until Jason came out and offered half an apology. Anyway, we recovered.

Across the way from the Basilica is the rest of the garden of Gethsemane (it’s not just a little plot of land!) as well as the “tomb of Mary” and a grotto which tradition holds Jesus prayed in many times, and which saw the disciples sleeping on that fateful night. The Greek Orthodox chapel that surrounds (controls?) the Tomb of Mary is more tasteful than most. Again we had to descend about 20 feet underground, but we were rewarded this time with a tomb tomb, which was nice. I’m definitely confused about this Mary business, because I thought the Roman Catholics said that Mary didn’t die but was “taken up” or “went to sleep” or something like that, but here’s a Greek Orthodox tomb of Mary. Anyway, it was pretty but nothing particularly of spiritual note for me.

We continued on the road and came back to the St. Stephen’s Gate (Lion’s Gate), so named for the first martyr, Stephen, who was stoned right outside this gate. The gate is decorated with a lion on either side…hence the “Lion’s Gate” as the alternative moniker. In any case, entering through this gate leads one directly into the Via Dolorosa, the “way of sadness”—the way of the cross. One can walk the 14 traditional stations of the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, beginning just inside this gate. I have to admit that it’s a little strange combining the “Palm Sunday” route with the “Good Friday” route and doing them at the same time. But we did it nonetheless.

The Via Dolorosa begins with two chapels—condemnation and flagellation. In this complex (which is also a monastery/convent), we saw now-familiar original Roman paving stones, but this time they had little patterns carved into them, which a sign informed us were “Roman soldier’s games.” Since these chapels are built across the road from the Antonia—Herod’s fortress, where Pilate would likely have passed judgment—there would likely have been soldiers here quite often or even all the time, and they probably didn’t go on tours of their “homeland” to pass the time. Some of the games are quite interesting—squares with diagonal lines creating boxes, sets of lines, and some games with interlocking circles. Most are quite crude and look as though they’ve been etched in with other pieces of stone or with fairly primitive metal tools. Limestone is a hard rock, after all, so I guess I can’t blame the Roman soldiers for not being more like Milton Bradley.

As we continued down the Via Dolorosa, we followed a pilgrim’s map and we stopped at each station, and went in the chapels associated with most of them. (One station, I think 4, was closed). It’s very interesting to do this purposefully and intentionally, especially since the streets of Jerusalem today are probably not so unlike the streets of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day—narrow, stone, crowded with people and with vendors. Granted, the vendors are different, but all the same, the streets are full of people. Doing this also helped us to realize just how far it was from the Antonia—site of condemnation and beating—to Calvary. That is, not very far. But it took us a substantial amount of time to do this, and we weren’t even carrying a cross. Granted, from the beginning to Station 5, where Simon takes up the cross for Jesus, is about two city blocks in any other city. Then, two stations later, Jesus “falls under his cross” for the second time. The chapel at this station was beautiful, but the tradition is, in my mind, spurious. How exactly did he fall under the cross when he wasn’t even carrying it? Anyway…we continued along, sometimes praying and sometimes chatting along the way. We missed station 9 because we couldn’t find it—the map was not clear enough to help us out in this case! We were okay with that, though, because it just meant that Jesus didn’t fall a third time under a cross he was no longer carrying. We managed.

From our lost wanderings, we turned a corner (following the street signs that say “Via Dolorosa”—a street that meanders in an Atlanta-worthy fashion) and found ourselves in front of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, a church with a hugely tall bell tower, complete with bells that woke us up every morning. Church of the Redeemer is practically next door to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the church built on Calvary and over remnants of a 1st century cemetery, and which contains Stations 10-15. We walked forward, looking furtively at some of the shops, including the shop where I purchased a stole last year, then passed a little doorway of sorts and found ourselves (again I say found because we were NOT expecting this so soon!) literally smack at the entrance plaza for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is simultaneously one of my favorite and one of my least favorite churches, which is hard to explain. I find that the overwhelming Greek Orthodox presence is, well, overwhelming. The oil lamps, the gilding, the metal plated icons, the decadence and overdone feel to the place…they really detract from what I (as a protestant) think of as a holy place and definitely add what feels like consumerism rather than sanctity. This situation is not helped by the fact that the Greek Orthodox control the “main events” in the church, and these are flanked by Roman Catholic and by other, less-lavish, Orthodox areas, making the contrast obvious and making most (maybe even all in my group) wish for more Roman Catholic controlled area. Thus sayeth the Protestants—“give us a Roman Catholic church any day over the crazy Greek Orthodox places we’ve been!” How’s that for a laugh! It definitely makes me smile.

After my tour-guiding was done (at the front door, so we wouldn’t have to try to stay together in the church and so we didn’t disturb what sanctity was left of the place), we headed in an up the stairs to continue our journey on the Stations. I must say I had a much better experience in this church (much like the Church of the Nativity experience) than last year. I had what might actually be called a spiritually enriching experience here, despite the glitz and glam and obnoxious tours. I was able to actually pray while touching the rock of Calvary (kneeling under a Greek Orthodox altar to do so), and while in the Tomb of Jesus. I think there are a variety of reasons for this, but all in all I think the Holy Spirit was moving and just really took hold of me for a while in that church this time. What are these reasons, you might be wondering? Well, first, it was a return visit for me and so I experienced less sensory overload. I knew what to expect and how overly ornate everything was. Second, I had no camera. I know I’ve said this before, but I really think that the loss of my camera let me really be in places, to experience them, to really look at things. No thinking about photos, no desperate need to document my presence at every place, no looking at the world through my viewfinder. This was definitely a blessing in disguise. Third, life was (is) pretty dark for me at this moment—especially over the holidays—and I needed some light pretty badly. I know perfectly well where the light comes from, and I needed it to break in. God provides—I needed more and I got more. I definitely experienced the light in the darkness, I definitely “got it.” To be in the tomb and be able to say “okay, you’ve been here, so you know what my family is going through, you know what my mom has been through, and you’d better be here with us OR ELSE.” There’s a hymn in the “new” Presbyterian Hymnal Supplement called “When We Are Called to Sing Your Praise” that has a line that says, “you understand the burdens that we bear, you too have walked the shadowed way and know our deep despair.” bizabt. (exactly)

Downstairs, under the hill (basically) is St. Helena’s chapel. You remember St. Helena, mother of Constantine, who traveled the Holy Land and declared where churches should be built? In the case of the C.H.S., there was again a pagan temple built on the site during the first years of the 2nd century, and Queen Helena traveled here and supposedly found the “true cross”—which, of course, hasn’t been seen in one piece since—in this very area. So, naturally, there is a chapel which may in fact be the oldest part of the church. I haven’t researched it fully, but it seems that Queen Helena is buried there? and that would definitely make it the oldest part. Anyway, what’s cool about this chapel is that on the walls along the stairs nearly every pilgrim that traveled to this church from the time of Helena until probably the last century or so has carved a cross in the stone. Not just any scratchy cross, but a symmetrical cross complete with flared ends. And all these crosses are nearly identical. It’s quite amazing, and very cool to run your hands over the cool stone and feel the crosses etched in, and to think that you are part of this long line of pilgrims, that the cloud of witnesses has left a visible mark. I wish I knew how they did it, because I would totally try to carve a cross without getting caught by a monk. Unfortunately, it seems that the church is always busy and that I would need a chisel (thanks Jason, for the info). Too bad.

By the time we gathered together at the door of the CHS again, it was dark and it was dinner time and the shops in the Old City were closing. We wandered a bit, but ultimately we headed back to the hostel to ask for some advice from Chris, the fantastic man who runs the place. As you’ve probably noticed, we decided not to move because Sarah woke up feeling no allergic reactions at all, and Jen agreed that it was okay enough for a few nights. This was, all in all, I think a good thing though we were COLD!! The place we were planning to move to also lacked heat, though, so ultimately moving or not was win-win. We just didn’t want to move our stuff, and Sarah and Jen agreed it was okay. Thanks, girls! Chris is such a nice guy, we were happy to ask him for help. He recommended an Ethiopian place, but Sarah doesn’t eat spicy food. Then he recommended a pizza place in the Old City, just a 5 minute walk away, and we jumped at it. The pizza was SO GOOD, we were happy happy people!! hooray for mushroom and black olive pizza. yum! It was a great end to a long day.

In the evening Jason and I took a stroll to the nearest bank so he could use the ATM. The ATM he had previously used, though, said it was “out of order,” so he used the other one. Unfortunately, it sucked his card in and wouldn’t give it back, and the only language the thing had was Hebrew. After several tense minutes of trying to figure out what it said and what was happening, we gave up. We walked the long and slow way back to our hostel…around the outside wall to the Damascus Gate, through the Muslim Quarter, to the Wailing Wall (where we stayed a little while), through the Jewish Quarter and past the Cardo, and around the inside of the Old City Wall back to the road that leads to the Jaffa Gate. We talked about worst case scenarios with his ATM card, and best case scenarios. He decided to go to the bank when it opened in the morning and see what they could do. We talked about culture and how strange it is that the Muslim quarter is so dirty—garbage everywhere—and the Jewish Quarter is so clean. We talked about Western coutries and industrialization and modernization, compared to developing countries that are still working on these things. We discussed whether “developed” countries looked like “developing” countries when they were still developing. We talked about the Israel/Palestine situation. In other words, we covered a lot of ground both literally and figuratively. It was great. We had a really good talk that challenged both of us to think in new ways, and that’s one of the things I love about being in a relationship with Jason. Always with the growing edges for both of us.

I have learned some things and realized some things from my experience of being the tour guide. Going to each place and explaining where we are, what happened there, some historical tidbits, the significance of the place/event, etc, is both fun and challenging as well as a teensy bit frustrating. It’s fun to share what I have learned, challenging to remember everything and to try to answer questions, and frustrating when I have to say things several times over or when I don’t know the answer (because obviously then I feel inadequate and like my friends are judging me, because then that one question I don’t know the answer to heavily outweighs the amount of info I do know and share). Part of me really enjoys being a “leader” in this way—going around and sharing cool things with people. Another part of me really doesn’t like being in charge like that because I feel like we’re all equals, peers, and no one person should be leading. There is obviously competition between these two parts of me, especially since when I know things I don’t WANT other people to be in charge. How’s that for honesty with something that’s really not good about myself? I have also suddenly found that people are coming to me for information, with questions about all kinds of things, and that I have a lot of this information. In other words, I am exhibiting a characteristic/behavior that is what I really admire about some of my favorite (and one least-favorite) pastors. The “s/he knows everything/has read everything/has been everywhere/is the person to ask about everything” syndrome. I seem to have it. And you know what? I like it and it’s affirming to me and my call. But it’s still weird! It’s weird to think that you’ll find my blog quoted on Sarah’s blog, because she “didn’t know about that!” or that people come to ask me “what do you know/think about xyz?” and they actually want to know my answer. I think I suddenly understand a tiny little fraction of what it’s like to be John (pick one) when I’m peppering him with questions about everything. Neat!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Live Into Hope, of liberty, The right to speak, the right to be....

December 26

I woke up extra early so I could pay a morning visit to the Church of the Nativity before we left Bethlehem. Our Galilee tour guide was scheduled to pick us up at 7.30am, and the Church opened at 6am, so I packed quickly, showered quickly, and headed in through the private Franciscan entrance at about 6.45. There was an Armenian Orthodox mass going on in the grotto, which I sat and listened to for a little while. It was quite moving, despite being a language I didn’t understand AT ALL. Not even the occasional liturgical word, oh no. Anyway, it was nice. Unfortunately, though, it also meant that I couldn’t go down into the grotto for one last time. Oh well. I wandered around the basilica a bit, pondered some icons on the Greek Orthodox side, and lit a candle. Then I was off for a hurried breakfast because, of course, I’d stayed past my budgeted time (7.15) in the church and was late! oy.

Before leaving Bethlehem, our driver and tour guide (both Palestinian Israelis because they were born and live in Jerusalem...but they have Jordanian passports and technically no citizenship in any country, and at the moment no right to vote in Israel’s upcoming elections) took us to the Wall to get a look at it and take some photos. There’s a substantial amount of graffiti on the Bethlehem side of the Wall, including slogans, questions, pictures, and even a mural of a living room window with a nice view, surrounded by two comfy armchairs. That mural is painted just opposite a house. The Wall has been built about 50 feet from the front of the house, so the view out the front window is of 20-foot-high grey concrete slabs. Except now they can look at a mural of what they used to see out their living room window. Sad. The place where we stopped to take photos is at the gate on the main road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. In fact, it’s the same place where I took photos of the Wall being built last year. The very road we used 18 months ago is now blocked off by a huge metal gate that is only opened for high-security the patriarch, when he came on Christmas Eve, and the president, when he came on Christmas Eve... It was really sad to see what has happened here. Last year I was angry because the Israelis had bulldozed olive trees, destroying some and damaging some, in order to build this wall that cut the trees off from the people who own them and care for them and get their livelihood from them. This year, I’m angry because it’s finished and the land grab has been successful and people now have a view of a concrete wall where before they had views of their olive groves. I’m angry because now there is a different entrance/exit for Bethlehem, a way that is inconvenient for Palestinians and has even further ruined the already ruined economy of Bethlehem. The new gate includes a "security area" where Palestinians must walk through, be searched extensively (often in a humiliating manner, out in the open, etc), and wait long periods in the cold/heat. There is a sign that says "Welcome to Jerusalem" as you pass through the gate, and a graffiti mural next to it with a lion-like beast attacking a bird. What a welcome….through a 20-foot barrier that separates families, that separates people from their land and livelihood, that keeps pilgrims out, that keeps people cooped up in a small area, that isolates some of the most wonderful people I have ever met, and into a land where 18-year-olds carry huge guns and grenade launchers, where everyone is constantly afraid, and where foreign money—my money—supports oppression.

Once we managed to get through the security checkpoint, we were on our way to Galilee. It’s farther than you think! We drove up along the Jordan River, past Jericho (roadblocked…) on a road with "flying checkpoints" that stop every car with a white and green license plate (Palestinian) but let every car with a yellow plate (Israeli) continue on. Despite the fact that this area is firmly West Bank territory, Palestinians are not allowed to travel in it without permits. We finally arrived in Galilee, and our first stop was the beautiful Mt. of Beatitudes. I love this place. We stayed here last year, and it was fantastic. The views are wonderful, the church is gorgeous, the grounds are amazing, and the hospitality we received from Sister Assunta (a Syrian nun) was what I would consider legendary. Can I possibly use more superlatives? No. Anyway, this time I didn’t get to see my friend the Sister, but we did get to spend a few minutes looking around the grounds and the church. It was beautiful, just as I remembered, except of course the garden was not in bloom.

From the Mt. of Beatitudes, we moved on to Tabgha and the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes. Unfortunately for everyone in our group, there was a noon service going on and we weren’t able to go up to the altar to see the famous mosaic.

How hilarious (and simultaneously cool) is this commercialization? I bought a cereal bowl and a mug with this mosaic on it (in Palestinian pottery style). That’s right, when I eat breakfast I can remember the loaves and fishes. Awesome!

From Tabgha we went to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, a Sea-of-Galilee-side chapel built on a rock where tradition holds that the events of John 21 took place. The disciples were out fishing but caught nothing all night, and in the morning Jesus called from the shore that they should try the other side of the boat. They do, and catch a ton of fish. Peter jumps in the sea and swims to shore. Jesus is cooking up a nice breakfast of fish when the rest of them arrive on shore. Then Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, and Peter is told to fee/tend the sheep/lambs. Anyway, all that supposedly happened at this site, which is on the shore and has a HUGE rock that could be used for all this talking, cooking, and fine dining. It was also really beautiful, and a place where we could all touch the Sea of Galilee. The sun was shining in beams through the clouds, and the song in my head was very definitely "and the glory of the Lord shone around, shone around, and the glory of the Lord shone around." Funnily enough, that’s the same song that popped into my head when we were at Shepherd’s Field, which had paintings showing the glory of the Lord shining around.

From the C.T.P.S.P, we moved on to my favorite site of all, Capernaum. I love Capernaum, "The Town of Jesus." It has great excavations, wonderful views of what 1st century homes would have looked like, a 4th Byzantine century synagogue built right on top of the synagogue Jesus would have attended and taught in, and, best of all, Peter’s House. That’s right, the very house where Jesus stayed, where Jesus healed people, where four friends removed the roof to let a paralyzed friend in to Jesus’ presence, that Peter’s house. I love Peter’s house, probably because I love that story of the paralytic. I was very impatient for our tour guide to stop talking so I could go back to Peter’s house and look at it, decide what rooms are what, etc. Unfortunately, there is a hideously ugly church built over the site. Fortunately, the inside of the church is not as hideous as I remember AND it has a glass floor where you can look down on Peter’s house from above. Very cool. Can I just say, I think archaeology is cool? Not cool in that I could ever actually do it, but cool in that when other people do it I like to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Anyway, it was neat.

And then we were on our way again…a falafel lunch in Tiberias (and ice cream!!! it’s much colder in Israel than Egypt, but Israel still has ice cream for sale. Take that, Cairo! bring back the ice cream! bring back the ice cream! Also, we saw donuts. real, fresh made, jelly filled donuts. Notice I said saw, not ate. anyway, i digress.) and then, after lunch, a van ride back to Jerusalem, past Jericho (still roadblocked and now dark too). After saying goodbye to Lynn and Dick at the Notre Dame (a very nice place), we headed to the Citadel Youth Hostel, just inside the Jaffa Gate. And then our adventures began in earnest!

We checked in, only to discover that Sarah was allergic to something. We didn’t know what at first, but later decided it was probably mold (there’s condensation on all the walls and ceilings). We went out to look for dinner and also Sarah and Jen looked into the possibility of changing hostels after the first night—and even made reservations at another nearby hostel. We ended up eating in a café right near the Jaffa Gate, called Samara. It had very good food (I had spaghetti with tomato sauce, mushrooms, and cheese) and even better hot chocolate. It wasn’t out of our price range either, though it did probably top it out (many people in our group, craving hamburger, paid 40 shekels (about $8) for that experience). After more looking around, we were (as usual) exhausted and we headed into our beds at the Citadel, where we found out that there’s basically no heat in our girls’ room (on the top floor) because using the heater overloads the circuit breakers and the entire hostel’s electricity goes out. We went to bed anyway, but boy were we cold! But...a day of Jesus-sites in Jerusalem awaited, so we were definitely going to get some sleep...hopefully.

"There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down (or if the exact location of each were noted in reliable historical sources or maybe a map), I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."